In her novels Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal takes her readers to a not-your-average Regency England to tell the story of a not-your-average romance. This short is not the story of a romance, though I won’t spoil it by telling you whether any occurs. Either way, you won’t mistake this for Jane Austen.
Eva left the circle of chalk open since she needed the Fae to touch her. She knelt on the ground and lay the willow branch across her left palm, loosely. Setting her teeth, she drew the blade of the knife across the cut in her thumb, reopening it. She wiped the blade on her trousers and shoved it into the sheath at her belt. She let the blood flow over the willow branch, coating the brown wood in scarlet. Blood magic was dangerous, but she needed a binding contract if she had any hope of getting Giancarlo out of Faerie.
Bending the wood, she wove it into a simple circlet, chanting in a patois of Gaelic and Cherokee as she did. Magic thickened in the air around her, shimmering in a haze outside the chalk circle. The veil between the mortal world and Faerie thinned and Cennetig stepped through.
A diminutive half-breed, he was part Cherokee Fae and part Gaelic Fae. His long black hair had some of the curl of his European ancestors, but it surrounded a brown face. Antlers, still sheathed with the buff velvet of spring, grew from his forehead. His curls twined around their base like dark foam. “Well met!” Then he frowned and pointed at the bloody circlet in her hands. “Eva…what have you there?”
“Nita took Giancarlo.” Forget the formality of greeting. “She said you gave the hotdogs to her family. They’re dead.” She held out the circlet. “I charge you to return Giancarlo.”
“As I did not take him, I cannot. Only someone who has a claim on him can take him across the border.”
She had no idea if her claim was strong enough— They had never done anything that wasn’t related to the job, but Eva took a chance. “I was contracted to keep him safe when dealing with Faerie. If you take me to him, I will win Giancarlo free myself. Tell me what your price is.”
“A kiss.” His lips curled into a thin smile.
She bit the inside of her cheek, thinking. Kisses were the catalyst to a lot of different spells in every region of Faerie. This wouldn’t be as simple as it sounded. “What would you do with this kiss?”
“Nothing. I am required to ask for a price and that is the price I ask. I promise you I will let no harm fall to you as long as you are under my protection.” He tilted his head. “That protection will end when you grant me the kiss, but I will not ask for it until you are safely returned to the mortal world. This is the least I can ask for and still accept your charge. Do you agree?”
Did she have a choice? “I agree.”
He leaned forward and let her place the circlet on his head. The wood twisted to pass over his antlers and settled on his brow.
Eva had a bare moment to wonder why he seemed so very pleased, before the magic thickened around them and the mortal world vanished.